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These are NOT the greatest closed headphones ever made (but they're really damned close).

A Review On: Audez'e LCD-XC

Audez'e LCD-XC

Rated # 43 in Over-Ear
See all 8 reviews
Review Details:
Audio Quality
Comfort
Design
Value
Purchased on:
Price paid: $1,800.00
Magick Man
Posted · Updated · 7338 Views · 19 Comments

Pros: Rich, balanced sound. Tight, accurate bass. Very detailed. Top shelf materials and construction. Excellent isolation.

Cons: Heavy. Not overly comfortable for long sessions. Some slight mid-range coloration.

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These are NOT the greatest closed cans in the world. Yes, you can indeed get better closed headphones, let me explain that process.

First, you need to settle in for a while, get used to doing lots of ebay searches, it's probably best if you just make up a pair of alerts; the first is for "Sony MDR-R10 bass light" (not the bass heavy version, they're a little too weighted on the low end to be neutral, though the "bass heavy" examples are more fun), and the second is "STAX 4070 earspeakers". Then you wait. Also, there's a slim chance you might find either of these in our exceptional Head-Fi "For Sale" forum, but good luck with that, when they do show up for a reasonable price they're gone faster than you can say Jiminy Cricket.

Yeah, these may look really cool, but unless you're a masochist (with deep pockets) you should probably avoid them. You've been warned.




Second, you're going to need to open your wallet wide... very wide. Actually, just take out a loan, because for the Sonys you're going to need to lay-out, near as makes no difference, $7,000-8,000, depending on condition. Also, you'll need a capable amp, so that'll be another $1000-2000, because although they're not too difficult to drive, you won't be doing it effectively with your iPhone, and you'll want something with a very clean output. The case is similar with the STAX 4070s, they're also scarce, but generally cost less when you can find them, $2000-3000. However, you'll need to shell out some serious money for a special electrostatic amplifier, because they won't plug in to a standard 1/4" HP jack. On that front you'll pay significantly more, between $2000-5000.

Third, pray they never break, because both of these rare bits of audiophile unobtanium are out of production, in fact Sony stopped making the R10s >20 years ago. So that means finding parts for either isn't easy, or cheap. Warning! Anecdote incoming. A few days after I received my Sony MDR-R10s, which I found on ebay from a seller in Croatia (no joke), I noticed a slight imperfection on the left earpad, it looked like a minor discoloration due to dirt. So, being a picky so-and-so, I tried to clean it with a microfiber cloth and some water, dabbing at it very gently. Well, long story short, old leather earpads are really fragile and I made it worse. Also, since direct replacement pads for those seemingly don't exist anymore, I'm just going to leave it alone and be thankful that I didn't ruin it, lesson learned. redface.gif

Does that all seem to be too much? Well, if you're like 99.99% of humans, yes, that's way too much effort and money to invest in such a thing. In fact, the only people who are crazy enough to go after the R10s and 4070s are collectors... like me. So where do you go from there if you need closed, reference-quality cans? While there are several options that sound good, there are some rather severe trade-offs, usually in; midrange coloration, clarity, bass extension, harsh treble, etc., the list goes on, take your pick. Tuning closed headphones is hard, much more challenging than open headphones, and during the process, sacrifices are made. As an active member of the modding community, I've been there and done that, it's a lot like one of those little plastic games where you try and get as many BBs as possible into a bunch of small holes, without being able to touch them. It can get a little maddening.

At this point, in steps Audeze... and... okay, full stop.



Here's the deal, I have to say I'm not one of their biggest fans, and that's not because they're a bad company. On the contrary, they're a very fine company, the problem is I simply don't care for their previous generations of headphones, namely the LCD-2 and LCD-3. Based on my experience, they're tuned more for bassheads, and I'm not one, so the several times I've demoed them they've left me wanting. I find that their sound signature is too dark and lacking "sparkle" in the treble region. I'm not going to go into more detail on this because it's a polarizing subject, however I'll just say we all have specific tastes and their previous offerings simply weren't to my liking, enough said. So without further ado, here we go. Keep your arms and other body parts in the vehicle at all times and please remain seated while we're in motion.

They're pretty, that's for sure. The first time I opened the case I went, "Oooooooo..."
*

Audio Quality: 4.75 / 5

Superb. There's no shortage of micro-detail available here, and combined with their very low impedance (22 Ohms) and relatively high sensitivity (96dB), it's available to practically everything with a headphone jack. They do scale with better electronics, but the difference isn't profound, think of it like adding extra whipped cream on top of a sundae. So while the sound out of my EC Balancing Act amplifier bordered on sublime, directly out of my LG G Pad it was still very good as well. Bass is fast and punchy with an abundance of extension, low and clean, offering a wonderful tactile sense and presence. Treble is equally enjoyable, with just the right amount of sparkle in the highs to keep you engaged, but still velvety smooth in its delivery. The mids are even and clear, but there's a slight amount of coloration in the 1.5kHz region that's noticeable in comparison with top-end open "neutral" sets, adding some warmth there, but it isn't obvious on their own. That's a small price to pay for their outstanding isolation, however, and in that area they excel, especially compared to semi-closed cans like the Fostex TH900s. Another aspect where they shine is instrument placement, sound focus is exceptionally sharp, and that combined with its fine detail retrieval make for an excellent tool in high-end mastering. All in all, what minor trade-offs that exist do not detract from their overall sonic presentation, Audeze has done a wonderful job tuning the LCD-XC. Soundstage is quite good for closed cans too, though not as expansive as the best open headphones, and even falling a tad short of the aforementioned TH900s. Bottomline: the main strength of the LCD-XC, its "party trick" if you will, is its world class sound quality, despite its sealed design, and that's a very difficult feat to pull off. Good Job, designers.

Value: 4.5 / 5

These are the best new sealed headphones available, and while I feel there are better values in the broader category, if you require (or just want) the best, look no further.

Design: 4.25 / 5

They're a traditional planar design, and people familiar with that will identify it immediately, despite the closed configuration. The materials are of high quality, though I do wish there was no plastic at all in their construction. One potential avenue to lower weight could possibly be carbon fiber, keeping the same structural rigidity of the frame components while lessening the weight substantially. Because, yes, they're heavy. Not to the point where you think your neck is going to break, but I was feeling a little fatigue after listening to them for a couple hours. In terms of sheer looks, the wooden cups are quite attractive, however the finish on them wasn't perfect, I could feel slight imperfections in it. I was able to fix the problem with the supplied oil and buffing cloth, but it shouldn't have been an issue to begin with. The headband and earpads are a nice calf skin, pleasing in appearance and to the touch. You also get a cool Pelican style carrying case that looks like it could survive a grenade explosion, 2 sets of high-quality interchangeable cables (one balanced and one single-ended), and some papers filled with warranty and product info. All in all, they look and feel like a luxury product, and with the small QC issues taken care of (and they've assured me they already are), they do a great job representing what you should expect from a flagship headphone.

Comfort: 4 / 5

Initially the weight concerned me, but after wearing them a while I adapted to them and they were fine. However, after an even longer period of time my neck began to get fatigued. One thing I want to add, however, is that I have moderate rheumatoid arthritis which does affect my neck, so I'm probably more sensitive to that than most, so it might not be an issue for you. Also my ears started to get hot under the pads by that time too, so you may want to consider Audeze's "vegan" earpads if you believe that could affect you as well.

Wrap up

There's not much left to say, if you require true reference quality sound with fantastic isolation, and want something new (you do, trust me), there's no better headphone available. The relatively scant negative comments I've made are me nit-picking, because I do that with everything. I've never encountered a perfect headphone, the STAX SR-009s are as close to that as I've heard and I gave them a 4.8 (see how hard it is to get a 5?). The Audeze LCD-XC however, is an excellent product that I heartily recommend, it's closer to perfection than any other closed cans being made today, and I'm giving them a very respectable 4.5 out of 5 stars. So, what are you waiting for? Choose your color and dive in, you won't be disappointed.


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19 Comments:

Good review Magick, so should I go for the TH900 or the XC. I am looking for a slightly warm but not dark signature.
Either will fit that, they're both exceptional headphones. If you want a more neutral experience with better isolation (a lot better), the LCD-XCs are for you. If you want something lighter and don't mind a slightly "U"-shaped sound sig, then the TH900s fit the bill. Either is a great flagship product, but as reference closed cans, the choice is the LCD-XC.
Hey, is that a man with a woman's face or a woman with man hands, either way I'm out?

Just my 2 cents.
What about the AKG 812?
Looks like a woman, no idea though, it's just some image I found.

The AKG 812 is an open headphone design, not closed (aka. sealed). They won't have the LCD-XC's superior isolation, which is the main point in considering them in the first place. If you can get by with open cans, then there are more options available.
Ahhh Magick Man.... I was waiting for someone who I follow to review these, I do like my Th900's but they are not as fun as I tend to like my cans. They are great and I like the bass, I am a basshead for sure. You allude to the TH900's being U shaped, would you say that these are more V shaped or "flatter" than the Th900's? I have never even heard an Audeze product and really want to. I have to have closed back. Would you say it is worth me picking up a pair of these considering I am searching for an improvement on my 900's? I actually bought some 600's also, and prefer the bass on them, don't ask how or why, I just do. I am probably going to pull the trigger on these very soon, just wanted to know how the bass compares to the 900's. I see that you are not a fan of too much bass but like these, so maybe I will be disappointed. What do you think?
A woman with man's outfit ( this is my 1st Comment )
... HURRAY :D happy to hear these are on the neutral side! 
 
My w1000x [Very Modded at this point] needs an upgrade :/, I'm thinking this shall be the way to go :3, optimally I'd like to end up with a TH 900 and XC... as atm I'm the owner of a W1000x and WoodBack D2k :3 so I like my woodies... like em BASSY heavy and bass clean! 
gonna glue some exotic wood veneer to my LCD2...already spent my bonu$$ :P
I'm not out to stymie anyone's enthusiasm, but these aren't "bassy", however the bass that is there is very accurate, fast, and deep. Low pipe organ notes will vibrate your cheekbones and make your ears tingle. For bass quality, I'd place them right behind the TH900s, but these are a more well-rounded headphone than the Fostex, and like I said in the article, they're at least an order of magnitude better at isolation.
How is the leakage? Are they like the Fostex/Denon headphones which at decent volumes they leak like a sieve? Thanks for the review!
No, not like the TH900s at all in that regard, they isolate both ways very well.
any heavy metal listening?
They're excellent with metal, their clear tone and extremely fast bass really come through.
Glad to hear that.  Thanks for the fast response.  Kudos to you.
These  do seem to be a great headphone. Hope to see a comparison of the X vs the XC some time.
What about LFF's Enigma and Paradox headphones?
Excellent read!!
Great review, well-written and decisive. Thanks
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